Posts Tagged ‘dry whites’


May 3, 2013

I went to the annual Naramata Bench Spring Release last week (for trade and media folks) and was once again impressed with many of the wineries and their offerings. The best 2012 white wines are fully ripe and gorgeous; the 2012 Roses also ripe; and the 2010 reds released last year are progressing really well. Here are the highlights from my tasting notes:

1. La Frenz

As I tweeted at the end of the tasting, La Frenz is King of the Hill again, and it wasn’t even close, really. The 2012 versions of their regular whites – Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Viognier – are once again stunning in both ripeness and value ($19 – $22), making them the best in BC. A 2011 Reserve Chardonnay was also spectacular – “like a baby Beringer Private Preserve” – was what my notes said. And a new wine – a Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon blend – was a bang on copy of a French white Graves!

For reds, the new vintages won’t be released till summer, but the 2010s were in beautiful shape, especially the Cabernet Sauvignon (vanilla covered black currants), Merlot (black plums and vanilla) and Reserve Pinot Noir (a beautiful cross between Cali and Burgundy).

2. Kettle Valley

No 2010 Hayman Vineyard Pinot Noir to taste (no surprise, as they don’t make enough), but the 2010 Reserve Pinot Noir released a few months ago is amazing! Super complex red cherries and spice, ripe but not candied or jammy, and a bit of tannin to boot. It drinks fine now, but seems capable of 4 – 6 years aging.

3. Howling Bluff

Great showing for the 2012 whites here! The regular Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon is gorgeously ripe, full bodied and dry, and still under $20. And two new wines – a Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc – in the same style, but even less expensive. Well done! The 2010 Pinot Noir was really tight, but it was just bottled. I have enjoyed the 2008 and 2009 vintages of this wine, so expect it will open up and compete with those.

4. Hillside

The new Muscat Ottonel was beautiful – so many different kinds of fruit on the nose, big body, but bone dry finish. The 2012 Rose was also gorgeous, with ripe cranberries and just off dry. Finally, last year’s Syrah (the 2009) continues to progress with classic Rhone flavours of peppery black cherries.

5. Miscellaneous

I liked the 2012 Roses from Monster and Therapy, which were full of ripe cranberries. The new Chardonnays from Poplar Grove and Laughing Stock were also nice, made in that buttery Cali style. And Van Westen’s 2011 Viognier was full bodied and complex, very Rhone in style.

Overall, another great tasting! Congratulations to the Naramata Bench Wineries Association for putting it on and thanks to the Hyatt Hotel for hosting.




December 12, 2012

Okay, second last wine blog of the year, and let’s focus on the best BC wines that are currently available in the government liquor stores.

Reds first this time, starting with what may be the best BC red wine value since the 1998 Tinhorn Creek Merlot. It’s another Merlot, although this time from Cassini Cellars, and what an amazing wine! Purple, super ripe – but not jammy – black plums, a touch of earth and herbs, and no oak in sight anywhere. Incredible wine, and for $17.99, a ridiculous value as well.

For a couple of bucks more, a nice Pinot Noir from one of BC’s most consistent wineries. Nk Mip Cellars makes very nice Pinot Noir, year in, year out, and the 2010 is no exception. Look for a Cali/Burgundy cross here from a style perspective – lots of ripe, red cherry fruit, but also earth, spice and a bit of mushroom. At less than $20, this wine would give many Pinots from around the world a serious run for their money.

Finally, a Bordeaux blend. Now, nobody faint – I know they are not my style of wine. But this one – from Moon Curser – is very nice, and nicely priced! The 2010 Border Vines is a mix of all the usual grapes, but much riper than most of these kinds of wines. It shows black currants, oak and cedar, but the former is equal to the latter, making it very nice to drink. And that is the case both now and for the future, as there are some tannins here that will allow it to age and develop for 3 – 5 years. It’s $24.99 – compare that to $45+++, and you will see the value!

So what about white wines? Well, Quail’s Gate once again gives us a nice dry Riesling, which might be their best wine (next to the Marechal Foch). Bone dry, it has classic flinty, minerally, citrus fruit – crisp, medium bodied, and very nice to drink now. It is also very reasonably priced at $16.99.

Moon Curser grabs another recommendation for five bucks more with its 2010 Afraid of the Dark. This is a rarity for BC – a blend of white Rhone grape varietals, and it is a beauty. Avoiding the resiny taste that sometimes comes with these wines, it is dry, not too fruity, and surprisingly full-bodied. For $21.90 it competes well with other wines in that price category.

The final white is another new addition to the BC Liquor stores – the 2010 Alibi by Black Hills. Because of drastically increasing costs, this is the only wine I can still recommend from the winery (the red Nota Bene is over $53 now!!!). It is a gorgeous Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon blend, very much like a white Graves from Bordeaux. Look for a touch of oak, crisp, dry citrus, and medium body. At $24.90, it isn’t cheap, but its French cousins are more than twice that much, hence the value!

Finally, sweet and sparkling! For the latter, an amazing value given the style. The NV Brut by Neck of the Woods in Langley, B.C. tastes like a classic Champagne – toasty, yeasty, bone dry. Almost all wines of this style and quality are $50+++, so kudos to them for it!

Sweet wine recommendations are tougher in BC, but a fun one to try is actually made from fruit. In this case, its blackberries, and the NV Cowichan Blackberry by Cherry Point on Vancouver Island is like a good liqueur. A little goes a long way here, and it will do well at any holiday party!

So there is BC wines for the holidays! One more to go – my recommendations for Christmas Dinner next week.



October 24, 2012

How many times have you seen the following expressions – “That wine will last for years”; “it will develop nicely in the cellar”; “after a few years, it will be much better”. I know I have. Heck, I use some of them myself in this blog!

They all, of course, refer to aging wine. But what does that really mean and – more importantly – is the end result going to be something you like?

But before we get to the answers to these questions, let me first emphasize that we are talking almost exclusively here about red wine, not white wine. Very few dry whites benefit from any aging at all (Sweet whites, and reds, are a whole other story). German and Alsace Rieslings and Gewurztraminers, white Hermitage from the northern Cotes du Rhone, and a few Burgundies (like Chablis) are the exceptions. But if you cellar the vast majority of white wines, you run the very real risk that the oak that most of them are originally made in will quickly overpower the fruit, leaving you with a mouthful of vanilla flavoured wood.

For red wines, the main reason for aging them is to mellow the tannins, which come from the grapes’ skins and stems. They are what can make a young red wine “pucker” your mouth, a sensation similar to when you drink tea that has been steeping too long. Over time, the tannins in wine break down and soften, combining with the fruit to produce secondary aromas and flavours, and increasing overall complexity.

Now, over 99 percent of red wine doesn’t have to worry about this. It doesn’t have a lot of tannin and is best drunk within a year of release.

But the big problem with the rest is that while they taste different as they get older, they doesn’t necessarily taste any better! The main reason for this is a tradeoff – as wines age, they may get softer, but they also lose their fruit. And many people – including yours truly – like the taste of fruit (currants, cherries, plums and the like) in wine. After all, it is made from grapes, which are fruit!

As a result, older, mature red wines can be a very different experience indeed! The fresh fruit is replaced by more herbal and woody characteristics, as well as mushrooms, earth, pepper and other spices. More complex, yes…but more enjoyable? Well, that depends on your tastes!

I will never forget a Burgundy event I went to years ago. We were tasting what were supposed to be some very good red wines from the 1969, 1970 and 1970 vintages, all of which were over ten years old. But as we went through them, one by one, it was obvious the crowd was growing restless. Finally, when it was time for questions, one guy boldly said “These don’t have any fruit in them at all; they taste like %$&^@!”

The poor host tried to explain, without being condescending, what older wines taste like, how complexity was a good thing, but with little success, as most of the audience seemed to share the questioner’s perspective.

Personally, I find this a particular problem with Cabernet (Sauvignon and Franc) and Merlot-based wines. The wood seems to really take over in many of them. My nemesis, of course, is Bordeaux, where this is seen as a positive quality by many (don’t get me started again about Bordeaux…). Offered wines from California and Australia made from the same grapes, I would take the latter every time, even when they age. The fruit just seems to stick around longer!

There are some dry red wines that I enjoy when they are older. The big ones form the northern and southern Rhone (Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage, Cornas and Chateauneuf du Pape and Gigondas, respectively), as well as the “two B’s from Piedmont (Barolo and Barbaresco) and a few Chianti Classico Riservas, Interestingly, none of those show their wood even when older – the fruit is so powerful, you end up with complexity without “slivers”. I also enjoy Shirazes from Australia and Cabs from California as they age because – as I mentioned earlier – there seems to be more fruit and it sticks around longer.

But enough about me – what should you do when it comes to aging, or drinking, old wine?

Well, the best advice I have is taste some before you invest in more than a few bottles. Many liquor and wine stores carry older versions of some wines – you can often find 6 – 10 year old wines. They may be pricey, but better to buy one now and find out if you like it, rather than start collecting and then find in ten years that you don’t like what you end up with!

So, like so many times before, this isn’t a case of “good vs bad”. Instead, it’s a matter of taste. Find out if you like older wines. If you do, feel free to buy them young – and cheaper – and keep them a while. But if you don’t, there is lots of great wine out there that doesn’t need any longer than the trip from the store back to your home!